Remembering Dr David Baldry
Dr David Baldry passed away 14 January, one day short of turning 81. If onchocerciasis can be eliminated, and people could settle in fertile lands that they had deserted because of river blindness, it is in good part thanks to Dr Baldry’s unique contribution and dedication.
A knowledgeable biologist and entomologist with a passion for cartography, Dr Baldry recognised that detailed mapping of blackfly breeding sites was essential in order to target and monitor aerial insecticide spraying. With the technologies available in the mid-70’s in the early days of the Onchocerciasis Control Programme (OCP), he mapped vast intervention areas in West Africa, flying with the pilots he had himself trained as Chief of Aerial Operations.
The required aerial larviciding of vast expanses of land was quite a challenge, covering an area of over 600 000 square kilometres and spreading over 7 countries. The approach gained global support at a time when control measures were badly needed.
Today, David Baldry’s pioneering work, coupled with mass treatment (with ivermectin) of populations at risk, has led to unprecedented progress. Global efforts are now geared towards eliminating river blindness. On the social front, control of river blindness allowed entire communities to reclaim 25 million hectares of abandoned arable land for settlement and agriculture.
David Molyneux, the former Director of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, first met David Baldry in 1971 in Lagos. “He was in Nigeria when serious civil unrest erupted,” recalls Molyneux. “It was the prelude to the war in Biafra and he selflessly saved the lives of several individuals who were on the wrong side of the ethnic divide by sheltering them, at significant risk to himself, in his own compound.”
David had a deep knowledge of not only entomology but also aquatic biology. After he retired to Cessy, France, he was an environmental adviser to many local organizations as he studied the local lake, in particular focusing on the alien crayfish which had invaded it.
David had a huge range of interests, ranging from Africa spoons and pipes to the architecture of chimneys and painting. Marrying his professional expertise and passions he designed posters for the onchocerciasis programme.
“We need to remember and pay tribute to those, like David, who have laid the foundations for what we are able to achieve today,” says Dr Dirk Engels, Director of the Neglected Tropical Diseases programme at WHO.
For more information, please contact Piero Olliaro